My Trick for Writing Difficult Articles
Every once in a while, I’m faced with a maddeningly blank screen as I try to get my head around how to write an article. Usually in this case, the topic is unfamiliar to me, or I have a lot of research and interviews and don’t know where to start. Here’s how I handle it.
First, I create a new Word document for my article. Then, I write a brief outline based on my murky view of what the article should look like (this can change as I’m writing); for example, for an article I’m working on now on how to create effective store window displays, I had:
- Differences/similarities between windows and catalog covers
- Color It Beautiful
- Keep It Simple
- Check the Angle
- Stay Seasonal
- Change It Up
(Notice that in some cases, the headers are still awkward and will need to be tweaked, while in others they’re pretty much ready to be used as subheds.)
Then — and this is the important part — I go through my interviews one at a time and copy and paste interesting quotes into the correct section of the article, followed by the source’s initials so I remember who said what. I do the same with any other written research and notes I have, though the non-interview research is for my informational purposes only, not for quoting in the article. For example, at this next stage part of my article looked like this (I transcribe my interviews as I’m doing them, which is why there are abbreviations):
The product and the imagery must be rep w good coloration and great lighting. If they’re showing the product in use. Prod imagery w reproduction and lighting are important. Most windows in modern storefronts have directional lighting. Lighting creates depth perceptions so you can highlight certain items and create primary and secondary elements. Sometimes so ["so" is my abbreviation for "someone"] will hang a Tshirt in front of that same Tshirt being worn by a girl on a bike. You’ll light the T very heavily and secondarily reinforce how fun it is to be wearing it. [DG]
Lighting is very important. All our windows are pre set with lights but they swivel. We don’t put the prods under the light…put in the prod and move the light towards them. Sometimes not direct because there will be a glare at night. During the holidays we put the trees on timers so they go off at 1 am and on at 6 am. Our lights stay on all day all night. Lighting is big. There are bars nearby and people could walk by at 2 am on the weekends so we don’t want the windows all dark. [LD]
Next, I build off of the information I pasted into each section to create the article. I put the best parts of the interviews in quotes, paraphrase some of it, and add my own explanations and other clarifying information.
Now, the article looks like this:
Let There Be Light
Good lighting can make the difference between a dull display and a vibrant, eye-catching window. “The product and the imagery must be represented with good coloration and great lighting,” says [source DG]. Most windows in modern storefronts have directional lighting, which you can use to create depth, highlight certain items, and create primary and secondary elements. For example, says [source DG], if you’re marketing a T-shirt, you could highlight the T-shirt and hang it in front of a less brightly-lighted lifestyle set-up of a girl on a bike wearing the same shirt. This showcases the product while secondarily reinforcing how fun it is to wear it.
Also, advises [source LD], don’t put the products under the light; place the products in the best location and move the light towards them instead. Check the display at night to make sure the lighting doesn’t create a glare; this is especially important if, like [source's store], you leave the lights on in your window all night. “There are bars nearby and people could walk by at two am on the weekends, so we don’t want the windows all dark,” [source LD] says.
Finally, I go through the article to tweak and smooth the sections. One drawback to this style of building an article is that I tend to follow the formula of “assertion-supporting quote” in every paragraph. I notice this is happening when every paragraph seems to end in quote marks, and I work to rearrange things to liven up the piece and not get into a rut.
So that’s it…how I break out of writer’s block and quickly build a good article. I don’t do this for every article, as in many cases I’m already familiar with the subject and as I go about my daily life my mind sorts out how I want the article to look, so when I sit down I already have a starting place. But it’s great for when I’m not sure where to start and how to organize all my notes.
I hope this trick works for you! [lf]